New order: RV Investigator nears completion
In May 2009 the Australian Government allocated $120 million for a new ocean-going research vessel to replace the current Marine National Facility Research Vessel, the 66-metre Southern Surveyor.
28 June 2013
Glen Paul: G’day and welcome to CSIROpod, I’m Glen Paul.
Back in May 2009 the Australian Government allocated $120 million for a new ocean going research vessel to replace the current Marine National Facility research vessel, Southern Surveyor. Construction on the new ship began in 2012 and now, just over a year on, the RV Investigator is nearing completion at the Sembawang Shipyard in Singapore. The ship will be delivered to Hobart later this year, making its first research voyage in 2014. To find out more about the ship’s role as a research vessel I’m joined by Operations Manager Don McKenzie.
Don, tell me about the ship. Why do we need a vessel such as the RV Investigator?
Don McKenzie: The main reason the Southern Surveyor has been retired is it’s age – it’s over 42 years old – but it’s biggest shortfall is in the number of berths that are available. Southern Surveyor only has a maximum of 12 science berths while Investigator will have up to 40 science berths. So that means we can bring about three times more science personnel on board for a voyage and that means that the science teams can address much more effectively the questions that they’re trying to answer on board.
Glen Paul: And in what other areas of its capabilities does it outshine or outperform the Southern Surveyor?
Don McKenzie: As well as the increased number of berths there are much laboratory spaces as well as enhanced suite of acoustic instruments below the ship and atmospheric sensors and radars above the vessel. There will be increased capacity for the size of CTD rosettes and number of bottles that will be able to be deployed. We’ll be able to tow a wider range of equipment deeper and further below the ocean. There will be also the facility to have on board several special containerised laboratories and that will allow much more flexibility in the way that we can address the scientist’s needs.
Glen Paul: What about its size in comparison to Southern Surveyor?
Don McKenzie: Southern Surveyor is 66 metres long and 12 metres wide. RV Investigator will be 94 metres long and 18 ½ metres wide. It’s half as long again and half as wide again and several decks higher. The internal space is huge compared with the Southern Surveyor.
Glen Paul: And what about speed?
Don McKenzie: The cruising speed will be 12 knots, it will be able to travel faster than that but the fuel consumption increases pretty significantly over 12 knots so that will be our usual speed for transiting between stations and around the science areas.
Glen Paul: And how long can the Investigator stay out at sea?
Don McKenzie: Investigator will be able to stay at sea for up to 60 days while Southern Surveyor’s operating limit is about 26 to 28 days.
Glen Paul: Where will it operate? Around the same areas as the Southern Surveyor or can it go further south?
Don McKenzie: We’ll be able to go further south than Southern Surveyor, our operating limit for Southern Surveyor is currently 50 degrees south, with Investigator we’ll be able to go to the ice edge which will open up much more of the southern ocean for researchers. We’ll also be able to go further afield to the west, to the Indian Ocean, and to the east beyond New Zealand for those voyages that are required to be in those parts of the ocean.
Glen Paul: As you mentioned, the Southern Surveyor has been around quite some time. How long do you envisage the RV Investigator to be performing scientific research?
Don McKenzie: We’ll be hoping that with suitable half-life refits down the track to refurbish and bring the equipment back to state of the art that we would be able to operate Investigator for 30 years.
Glen Paul: So the sun is now setting on the Southern Surveyor. When is it due to be decommissioned?
Don McKenzie: Southern Surveyor left Hobart on Monday, 17th of June for a last lap around the country. It’s heading across the Bight, with a team of scientists and students, to Fremantle at the moment. From Fremantle we’ll do a voyage that finishes in Broome. From Broome across to Brisbane, Brisbane back to Hobart where it will arrive in mid-September and that will be the last voyage for Southern Surveyor and the disposal process will begin in earnest then.
Glen Paul: I’m sure there will be more than a few tears shed then. What’s your personal involvement with the ship?
Don McKenzie: I’ve been going to sea on Southern Surveyor for nearly 25 years and I’ve been to some pretty amazing places and been involved with some wonderful scientists. I, for one, will be sad to see it go.
Glen Paul: It certainly has done some great work for science. As with the Southern Surveyor, the new ship Investigator will be open to all Australian scientists. How does one get a berth? If I were a scientist who wanted to participate in some research, how do I get on board?
Don McKenzie: The call for applications for sea time begins about two years before the scientist will go to sea. Those applications are reviewed by national and international assessors and then they’re ranked by a sub-committee of a steering committee, a scientific advisory committee. Those applications are then ranked in priority, according to their scientific excellence and benefit to Australia of the research and the ability of the team to achieve their goals. From that highly ranked list a scheduling committee puts a draft schedule up to the steering committee and once that’s accepted then offers of time are made to those successful scientists and planning for the voyages begins.
Glen Paul: It sounds well worth the effort to be on board such a fine research vessel. I look forward to seeing the finished product. Thank you very much for talking to me about it today, Don.
Don McKenzie: Thanks very much, Glen.
Don McKenzie: And if you’d like to find out more about the ship or to follow us on other social media, just visit www.csiro.au